Scholars look to challenge perspectives with new anti-racism course

Jeff Rice
July 13, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Two students in the Schreyer Honors College co-designed and will teach a new course that will encourage their fellow Schreyer Scholars to converse about and question their own perspectives about racism.

Maryah Burney, a Scholar majoring in journalism, and Janiyah Davis, a Scholar majoring in psychology and criminology and pursuing a master’s degree in public policy, will be the instructors for AFAM 297, Section 002: Anti-Black Racism in America, a course they designed through Students Teaching Students. The three-credit course, which debuts this fall, is open to any Penn State student but Burney and Davis are hoping honors students will strongly consider it.

“I just want us to be able to share with our students and say, ‘Here’s what we have seen, here’s what others have seen, here’s some information on these issues. Let’s expand your world view, let’s talk about it, let’s have these conversations and let’s really challenge our own beliefs and thoughts,’” Burney said. “Our goal isn’t to change people’s perspectives, but hopefully to give them more information that will encourage them to look at something from a different perspective.”

To create the curriculum, Burney and Davis sought advice and feedback from Ashley Patterson, assistant professor of education, and Efraín Marimón, the director of the Restorative Justice Initiative and the Social Justice Fellowship. Lynette Yarger, professor of information sciences and technology and the associate dean for equity and inclusion in the Schreyer Honors College, is their adviser and formal professor of record for the course.

“Students really need that cultural competency, and I think that’s the key that students think is lacking,” Yarger said. “It’s not that (other) students are inherently racist towards them or that they’ve necessarily had a negative experience, but interacting with students who are not like them is somewhat superficial and sometimes challenging because we can’t have that depth of communication. That’s what I think the students would like to feel more connected and part of the community and better understood.”

The course was inspired by discussions about racial unrest and injustice that Burney, Davis, and other students in the Multicultural Association of Schreyer Scholars (MASS) had during meetings in the student organization during the past year.

“We had always wanted to do something that was specifically talking about racism and those sorts of issues within the Honors College,” Burney said. “The issue we were finding was that people weren’t really interested because there wasn’t something that they could tangibly take from it. What we heard from people were that if things like class credit were tied to talking about issues of racism and anti-blackness, especially in honors communities, a lot of people would be more willing to sit down and have those conversations.”

The course will include a final project rather than a final exam, and Davis said she hopes to set up a sort of expo where students’ final projects may be viewed by larger audiences. One of the primary goals for the course is to generate an environment in which students and instructors can have honest and raw discussions about racism and learn from the perspectives of those who have different backgrounds and experiences from their own.

“The course is not only for them to understand and to connect with each other, but that’s also what I’ll be doing,” Davis said. “I hope to get to know them and their backgrounds and get a better understanding of Penn State students and why we think the way they do.”

To learn more about Students Teaching Students, visit stspsu.org.

About the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Scholars total nearly 2,000 students across the University. More than 15,000 Scholars have graduated with honors from Penn State since 1980.

Last Updated July 13, 2021